So here we are on another thought provoking Thursday and I thought I would continue the conversation on how we read, interpret or implement what is written in the Bible. Now, I was brought up for the majority of my christian ‘career’ to observe the principle of tithing and was faithful to give a tenth of my income to the church where I currently committed myself. I even calculated this giving on my gross income and not just what the tax man left for me! Like many of the things I had come to believe, it was based on what I had been taught and then what I personally researched as I found texts to support my understanding.
The tendency for ‘bible believing’ christians to call upon texts, whether isolated or cherry picked, to prove a particular belief or practice is something I have spent much time pondering. This week, I am focusing on the issue of tithing as it presents a good case in point. There are certainly statements, particularly in the Old Testament, that give weight to the argument that giving a tenth of all we receive would be a principle we might do well to follow. From Abram, who gave a tenth to Melchizedek through Jacob’s promise in the same book of Genesis we have examples outside the law. Moses introduced a tithe (tenth) as law in Leviticus and the principle of using the tithe to support the temple priesthood was established in Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Even Jesus makes reference to this when he addresses the Pharisees and reminds them to give attention to the weightier matters of justice and the love of God, without neglecting the requirement of the law to tithe. This implies that his comment was specifically directed at people who were to continue to observe the law of the ‘old deal’, something that Jesus was intending to take to a new level through what he called the ‘new deal’. The emphasis now seems to be on cultivating a generous heart towards others and pooling resources for the common good.
What is being introduced here is the transformation of attitude rather than the observation of rules. We humans just love to have things spelt out for us; it brings security and reassurance to follow a set of precepts. However, Jesus makes it clear that having the law written on our hearts is the new way of life. He restates the ten commandments as summed up in loving God and loving your neighbor and mentions a new commandment based on loving others as he has loved us.
And this, I believe, highlights the key issue when it comes to observing rules or principles such as tithing. Does it not take away from the heart of the matter to insist on a somewhat legalistic observance of giving instead of taking a completely ‘new deal’ view of this issue. What if we start from the presumption that everything we have is a provision from God and that makes us merely stewards rather than owners? If we thoughtfully and carefully manage this provision, whether it be money, time or anything else of value with an attitude that puts others first, then our giving would far outstrip the strict tenth suggested in the tithe.
My own feeling, though I admit to seeking continued reassessment, is that I am missing out if I give my tenth and then feel like I have done my bit, though I know many do this and give beyond out of a desire to be generous. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why organizations feel the need to emphasize this practice. Without a reminder or a clearly stated principle and left to individual conscience, giving to the common agenda can be seriously lower than needed. I recently attended a service at a mega church where they were offering a 90 day money back guarantee for those who tithed. They promised that if God did not bless the giver, they would return the tithe!
Apart from concern over why one is giving at all, I wonder if we may be missing out on a revolution of the heart by insisting on such specifics? Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with an organization asking for a contribution to its operation. It is done all the time in many religious and secular organizations. My question is whether we limit our full understanding of Jesus’ new deal and its focus of inner transformation rather than outward observance . How refreshing would it be to live amongst a generous community, where we all hold on to what we have so lightly that no one is ever in need and there is more than enough to enhance the lives of those around us?